If you’re hoping to go off-the-beaten track away from the city centre, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of hip haunts, cool hangouts and hidden gems in Singapore that are considered under-the-radar even by locals.
Our guide to hidden gems in lesser-known locales encompass the neighbourhoods of Balestier, Bukit Timah, Holland Village, Hougang, Jalan Besar, Queenstown, Redhill, Siglap and Toa Payoh.
Visit these neighbourhoods for amazing sights, sounds and, of course, food!
Off the Beaten Track Neighbourhoods in Singapore
Named after Joseph Balestier, the first American consul to reside in Singapore, Balestier was initially an agricultural space, but evolved to host businesses from traders, artisans and craftsmen.
In the 1920s, it was nicknamed ‘Recreation Road’ for its growing entertainment offerings. Today, this district is home to Chinese-Baroque style shophouses, old-world cultural gems and hip eateries.
For an authentic Singaporean meal, visit Founder’s Bak Kut Teh, which has been dishing out piping-hot bowls of pepper pork-rib soup for over four decades, and is a favourite haunt of local stars and celebrities. Alternatively, dig into a meal at Loy Kee Chicken Rice for a taste of one of our island’s most iconic dishes.
For your coffee fix, visit Lam Yeo Coffee Powder Factory to learn how old-school coffee is made, or while away the afternoon at Wheeler’s Yard, a bicycle-themed cafe popular amongst locals where its blue door makes a great backdrop for an #OOTD.
A prime location in Singapore, the Bukit Timah area used to be known for the Bukit Timah Race Course, a horse-racing facility for the high-heeled. Today, that facility is renamed The Grandstand and has been converted to host various shops and eateries, such as Italian restaurant Ristorante da Valentino and Louisiana-style seafood diner Dancing Crab.
The neighbourhood is home to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a verdant sanctuary that’s popular among nature lovers and fitness buffs alike, and a great place to relax and unwind.
Alternatively, we recommend exploring The Green Corridor, which leads to the Old Bukit Timah Railway Station. You’ll be able to spot Neram trees (large tree indigenous to Southeast Asia, commonly found on riverbanks) and Raintrees, as well as old railway tracks at the initial 1.4km of the Bukit Timah-Rochor trail.
When you’re done sweating it out, hop off the train at Beauty World MRT for various dining options. In the day, stop by Revelry and Carpenter & Cook for brunch, or drop by Bukit Timah Food Centre to nosh on hawker delicacies like fish soup, braised duck rice and laksa (spicy coconut milk-based noodle soup).
Night owls can visit the bustling supper stretch which offers local delights like roti prata (South Indian flatbread) and curry at Al-Azahar to a spread for sharing at Joo Seng Teochew Porridge. Those with a palette for novelty can also try out frog leg porridge at G7 Sinma Claypot.
Affectionately known as ‘Holland V’ by locals, the district of Holland Village is named after Hugh Holland, who was one of the area's early residents and a well-respected architect.
This charming precinct encompasses Chip Bee Gardens on Jalan Merah Saga—lined with semi-detached and terrace houses that were once homes to members of the British army in the 1950s, when Singapore was under colonial rule.
If you’re looking to grab a cuppa and people watch, consider dropping by %Arabica for aromatic brews that hail from countries Brazil, El Salvador and Japan.
The neighbourhood’s vibrant watering holes are a hit with locals as well—restaurant-bar Drinks & Co Kitchen, Germanic pub Baden and live music venue Wala Wala are the perfect spots for an evening tipple.
In the past, Hougang was bustling with food stalls, street wayang (theatre shows), Chinese medicine men, and storytellers. It is now a mature residential town, and the most populous in North Eastern Singapore.
History buffs can pay a visit to the Japanese Cemetery Park— the largest Japanese cemetery in Southeast Asia and home to 910 tombstones from World War II. For beautiful gothic architecture, drop by the recently renovated Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the oldest Catholic Church for the Teochew community in Singapore.
To refuel, head to Simon Road for Lola’s Cafe, or dig in to the iconic Punggol Nasi Lemak and Selegie Tau Huay (beancurd) just round the corner. Closer to the heart of the neighbourhood and the MRT station, you can pick up no-frills essentials at Hougang Mall and Hougang 1.
The shophouse-lined streets of this colourful district was once a simple track through a betel nut and fruit orchard, established in the 1830s by the Norris Brothers. Years later, the municipality decided to expand the road before aptly naming it Jalan Besar, which translates from Malay to "big road".
Now a conserved area, Jalan Besar is home to an eclectic stretch of eateries, cafés, entertainment venues, and religious sites. It’s also a hostel hotspot, and a haunt for backpackers and globetrotters seeking affordable accommodation.
This is one of the best areas to go café-hopping, so check out hangouts like Butter Studio for its incredible baked goods and Chye Seng Huat Hardware for some potent coffee (or a cold brew on tap). Don’t miss other highlights like The General Company for artisanal products and handcrafted wares—they make for great souvenirs.
If you’re sticking around for dinner, hit up places such as The Refinery for Japanese kushiyaki (grilled skewered food) and bespoke cocktails, or if you want some local delights, head to Berseh Food Centre for orh luak (fried oyster omelette) and local aromatic kopi (coffee).
One of Singapore’s oldest housing estates, Queenstown was once an agricultural zone, and is named after Queen Elizabeth II, Singapore’s head of state during the colonial era.
From its MRT station, take a short bus ride to the sprawling IKEA at Alexandra for Swedish meatballs and home décor shopping.
Visitors to Queenstown can also learn more about the neighbourhood’s colourful heritage with the quaint artefacts and exhibits on display at My Queenstown Museum, Singapore’s first-ever community museum.
Also synonymous with the neighbourhood is Queensway Shopping Centre, a favourite haunt of local athletes and shoppers looking for bargain buys on sneakers and apparel from brands like Nike and Adidas.
Over in the nearby Wessex Estate, there are noteworthy sites as well. Check out art galleries like Joy Clay Studio & Gallery (you’ll have to make an appointment to visit) for ceramic sculptures and installation art before dropping by Colbar—a charming canteen that boasts an old-school ambiance and a myriad of Western and Asian culinary delights.
Legend has it that Redhill, (also known as Bukit Merah)—the hill that gives this neighbourhood its name—was named after a young boy who was murdered out of jealousy after saving his village from swordfish, with his blood staining the hill ever since.
Intriguing tales aside, Redhill is a new town in the Southernmost part of Central Singapore, and was home to our island’s first brickwork factories and mills in the 1930s.
Today, it’s a cosy neighbourhood housing the well-loved Redhill Market for local delicacies like satay bee hoon (rice vermicelli noodles in a spicy peanut sauce) and chicken rice.
If you’re feeling peckish while visiting, be sure to drop by Seng Hoon Coffeeshop or Soon Li Yong Tau Foo. The former is a great option for travellers visiting in the morning—and serves up the classic Singaporean breakfast of kaya (a traditional jam made from coconut and eggs) toast and kopi—while the latter is a popular supper spot that dishes out piping hot bowls of yong tau foo.
Starting off with humble beginnings as a coastal kampung (village) of coconut-nutmeg plantations, Siglap flourished when the Frankels— wealthy Jewish businessmen from Lithuania— bought over the land.
Today, this residential area in eastern Singapore is home to mostly semi-detached homes and bungalows. The neighbourhood is a stone’s throw away from East Coast Park and Changi Airport, making it a popular area amongst tourists, expats, and beach-going Singaporeans.
For traditional-local meals, sample home-made nonya* cuisine at House of Peranakan, or feast on zi char (traditional dishes influenced by home-cooked Chinese food) at Jin Wee Restaurant. Coffee lovers can indulge in the many brunch joints available in the area—crowd favourites include Penny’s University, Craftsmen Speciality Coffee, and Stamping Ground Coffee.
*Nonya cuisine is also known as Peranakan (meaning "local born") cuisine. The cuisine comes from people of Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage.
Toa Payoh may seem like a typical heartland area at first, but delve deeper and you'll find that it's steeped in a rich and colourful history.
The neighbourhood, which translates to "big swamp" in the Hokkien dialect, is the second oldest satellite town after Queenstown and is the site of many firsts: it was the first town to adopt the neighbourhood police post system, the first MRT station was built here, and is the home to the first mosque established under the Mosque Building Fund (MBF).
To experience the neighbourhood’s many charms, drop by venues like the aforementioned Masjid Muhajirin mosque, Toa Payoh Town Park for a spot of greenery, and the iconic Dragon Playground for a look at one of Singapore's most beloved landmarks.
If you’re feeling peckish, there are cafés and restaurants like waffle and ice cream joint Creamier and famous seafood dining spot Kelly Jie Seafood, where you can sample chilli crab, Singapore’s national seafood dish.
Now that you’re equipped with the right knowledge, you’re all set and ready to go explore the secret side of Singapore! For more walking trails and neighbourhoods to visit, check out these guides.